Monday, March 9, 2009

The Day After: (No. 6 UMBC 79, No. 3 BU 75, OT)

Boston University men’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff said before the 2009 America East Tournament that he though, unfortunately, his team would be judged on how they performed in the postseason. He threw in the unfortunately qualifier thrown in because, despite what may have seemed like an underachieving regular season given that the Terriers were pegged to finish first in the conference for the second-straight year and ended up in third, Wolff and his players managed to recover from the midseason loss of two of the team’s top five scorers (Tyler Morris and Carlos Strong) and record their first winning campaign in three years. BU’s 17 wins, eight of which came consecutively in one of the best stretches of basketball at BU since the early 2000s, were a success, but the failure to attain an 18th win is, as Wolff said, a bitter disappointment for the program.

Over three years ago, when Corey Lowe, Tyler Morris, Scott Brittain and Sherrod Smith took the court as wide-eyed freshman starters against George Washington University at Agganis Arena (and rookie Carlos Strong scored 19 off the bench) games like Saturday’s were what was on everyone’s mind afterward. The unbridled talent of this collection of players only needed experience to reach another level — a level that many hoped would produce the team’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002. But after another one of what has been far too many late-game collapses by the Terriers over the last three seasons at the worst-possible time, those visions remain on the horizon. Lowe delivered a career-defining performance only to see it matched by Darryl Proctor’s 33 points and No. 6 UMBC’s 79-75 overtime victory.

For the first time in two seasons, the Terriers were ousted in the first round. And in a year in which so much history was made — the 100th season of BU basketball, Lowe’s 1,000th point, the program’s 1,000th win, the 200th win at Case Gymnasium, John Holland’s 543-point season, Lowe’s shattering of the all-time 3-point record — the ultimate symbol of a school’s immediate and historical success proved unattainable. Similar to his performance against Hartford, Holland appeared in-and-out of the contest. He was unstoppable at times, especially when he hit back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the second half and at others was relegated to a virtual non-factor player on the court. The same could be said about Rookie of the Year Jake O’Brien, who scored a career-high 25 points against defending champion UMBC at the RAC in late February, but was never really able to find his stroke.

Ultimately, it was Wolff’s necessary divergence from his gameplan and Proctor’s amazing effort — UMBC coach Randy Monroe called him a “willer” because he’s willed the Retrievers to victory so many times in the two years he’s played for them — that did the Terriers in. Wolff planned on pounding the ball in the post, but given how ineffective the forwards looked, that strategy quickly went by the wayside. With the offense not running through the post (as it had the majority of the time once BU lost Morris and Strong) the Terriers were a bit out of their element and if it weren’t for Lowe’s performance, they would have appeared completely out of sync.

It was the final game of Matt Wolff, Marques Johnson and Sam Tully’s careers. Next season will provide a much longer list of seniors in this paragraph, and the defeat for this talented team would be no less devastating.

UMBC will play top-seeded Binghamton at the Events Center on Saturday to decide who will get the conference’s automatic bid. The game is at 11:00 a.m. and can be seen on ESPN2.

Corey Lowe: Not only did he deliver on the biggest stage of his career, but he slung the Terriers on his back and carried them through the game. After all the ankle injuries (and really, a career full of injuries) he appeared in top form knocking down runners, jumpers, deep treys and contested layups. His emotions at the end of the game told the whole story. Lowe will only have one more chance to play in an NCAA Tournament game. If you thought his effort in Albany was inspired, there’s no telling what fans could be in store for next season in Hartford.
-- Holland
’s second half: Holland scoring 20 points is a testament to how effective he can be when he’s completely “in” the game. In the inaudible mumbles he offered after the contest, the only thing that was really English was, “I didn’t do what I was supposed to do,” in regard to his three points in the first half. Holland is an elite offensive superstar when he wants to be; the challenge for Wolff and his assistants is getting him to show that every night. He did for most of the season, but when he doesn’t, it becomes blatantly obvious and really hurts the Terriers.
Matt Wolff’s effort: In what ended up being his final game in a BU uniform and being coached by his father, Matt turned in a commendable performance, grabbing nine boards and dishing out six assists. He played all 45 minutes after suffering a concussion six days prior, but showed no ill-effects.

BU’s forwards: Dennis Wolff is always cautious about calling his players out in a public forum, but following BU’s first-round exit, he showed no hesitation to mention how disappointed he was in the “4 and 5” positions. While he didn’t name names, it was evident that he was unhappy with the effort put forth by Scott Brittain and Jeff Pelage. Brittain has been stuck in Wolff’s dog house all season, constantly being pleaded with to show more aggression on the court and, as Wolff says, play off two feet. He didn’t Saturday. Combined with Pelage’s five turnovers and no assists as well as both Brittain and Jake O’Brien fouling out in regulation, the Terriers’ fate might have been sealed even before Proctor tied the game.
Defense of Proctor: Understand that this does not include the final minutes of the game after Brittain and O’Brien fouled out, because the shot Proctor made shows why he was a leading candidate for the Player of the Year award. Before that, however, he was scoring at will against BU’s zone and man-to-man, hitting mid-range jumpers and making strong cuts along the baseline.
-- First-round exit: It seems obvious, but this team hadn’t lost in the first round in two seasons. And given that the University at Albany upset UVM in overtime just before BU tipped off, the Terriers’ path to a championship game appearance for the first time since 2002-03 looked bright. It wasn’t to be, however, and BU will have an entire offseason to think about the loss and prepare for next year.

Proctor, UMBC knock of Terriers in AE Tourney
Lowe's 33 point effort not enough in crushing loss
BU, UVM knocked out

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